Part 1 - Answer These Four Questions
Photo Credit: Robson Hatsukama Morgan
Many years after my dad passed away, my cousin Bridgette was visiting and we were chatting about him and something her mother (his sister) had told her. Of course I wanted to know. She conveyed that my dad wanted four main things in life. To marry my mom. To have a family. To fly airplanes. And to live on a farm.
Well there you go. He had such a clear, simple vision for his life. What is astounding is that he knew he wanted those things in high school.
That was his vision. What was his strategy though? Did he manage to do it? And if so, how?
My grandpap drove an eighteen wheeler for a fish company. His route went from Pittsburgh to Baltimore and back for blue crabs, to Boston for haddock, and to Maine for fresh lobsters. When my dad graduated from high school, he too started driving a truck for the same company. And yes, we ate fish every Friday night.
My mom was beautiful and willowy with green eyes and brunette hair like Elizabeth Taylor back in the fifties. She was smart in mind and dress, a cheerleader and prom queen, and she spoke un petit peu French. All the guys with a promising future would consider themselves lucky to date her. My dad, who graduated a year ahead of my mom, was a smooth-talker; our last name is Wylie. He was handsome and charismatic in a James Dean sort of way, and somehow the year after graduation he talked my mom into eloping with him to West Virginia of all places because you could get married there at eighteen without your parents’ permission. When she went back to tell her mom, she was greeted at the door by my grandmother holding a pillowcase stuffed with dirty laundry. She threw it at my mom and said, “Get used to it. You’ll be doing it for the rest of your life,” and unceremoniously slammed the door. She was crushed. She had wanted better for my mom than for her to marry a poor truck driver.
Mission accomplished — number one on my dad’s vision. Age 19.
The next year my older brother was born.
Mission accomplished — number two. Age 20.
Next was flying airplanes. As he was driving a truck, he scrimped and scraped and spent every extra penny and then some to take flying lessons at the local airport. He quickly flew a plane solo and continued racking up his hours. I was born two years after my brother, and I remember my early years as eating a lot of Spam with ketchup. If you don’t know what Spam is, join the crowd. I don’t think anyone really knows what Spam is. My mom made all my clothes, and bought used furniture and recovered it. Christmas was one gift and oranges and crayons in our stocking. My grandparents, whose view of my dad had softened thank goodness, used to make food for us and bring it over.
Back then, in the early 1960’s, you only needed a certain amount of flying hours to become a pilot. My dad carefully kept track of his, and wrote them meticulously in his flight logbook. After several years doing this, he finally had enough hours to be hired by Allegheny Airlines.
Mission accomplished — number three. Age 27.
Relatively quickly his salary grew to the point where he was making more money than anyone in his whole family and even our whole neighborhood.
After a couple more years and my two little brothers, we needed to find a bigger house. I had to share a tiny bedroom with my youngest brother who at age one discovered the light switch above his crib and like a hunter spotting deer turned the lights on and off all night. We lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh, but my dad figured if we moved further north to Butler County, there was farmland and it was still within an hour’s drive of the airport. He never liked living in or near a city. He and my mom started looking for a farm to buy.
They learned of a widow of the owner of a local hotel and restaurant. Like an original farm to table, the restauranteur grew the vegetables, and raised the livestock that he used in his restaurant. He had died suddenly and left his wife with much debt and few liquid assets. The farm had a huge, beautiful house on a hill with 32 acres of woods behind it and fields and pasture in front of it, two barns, a greenhouse, a built-in swimming pool in the lower pasture, tractors, a garage, a chicken coop, a river that ran through it, and two caretakers’ houses. To all of us, it felt like we had moved into a palace. I was ten years old. My Christmas present that year was a pony. We stopped eating Spam. My life was then complete.
Mission accomplished — number four. Age 31.
My dad accomplished his vision by the age of 31. I was jealous. Granted I had successfully co-founded, managed and sold two companies, but none, I felt, was my dream, my life’s purpose, my vision. When I finally figured out mycompany, my vision, Bloomers Island, I was pushing 50. Side note: it’s never too early and it’s never too late to bring your vision to life. Colonel Sanders was in his sixties.
The Magic of Four
The American psychologist, George Miller, is known for testing and developing a theory that the human mind could only digest and remember seven pieces of information at a time. Supposedly, that is why phone numbers became seven digits long (before area codes). Later, through follow up research from Gordon Parker, a professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, that number was changed to four. His research showed that it is hard for the human mind to concentrate on more than four things at once. The seven digits Miller wrote about would actually be broken into four pieces by people. For example, if a phone number was 789–5876, us humans would break it down into 78 95 87 6. That would be the easiest way to process and remember the seven digit number — in chunks of four.
The author of “Chart Your Own Course,” Caryn A. Spain (mentioned in my last article, “Start Here to Figure Out Your Life’s Purpose”), used this theory when she came up with the methodology for writing a strategic vision statement. Her approach was somewhat novel; most vision statements are simple, one or two sentence lines that are easily memorized, but in my opinion, not of much use if one doesn’t include a strategy to achieve it. My favorite business quote is: There are no good ideas. There is only good execution.
A vision strategy should focus on four things then. Please note that this doesn’t mean you are not going to do other things, it merely means you will spend most of your resources — time, energy, money — on making sure that you focus on doing a fantastic job on those four things. More on this in Part 2.
The Four Questions
In case you didn’t read my aforementioned article, I will summarize it here because you will need to use it as a foundation to build your vision strategy. It is a list of at least fifty skills, strengths and talents that you possess. I call the list, My Top 50.
You can do a vision strategy for both your career/business and for your personal life. You will just need to do a separate Top 50 for each. I recommend doing that anyhow.
Consider your Top 50 list and pick out the talents, strengths and skills that best answer the following four questions:
1. How have I made the most money?
2. What will be most relevant for the future?
3. What do I do better than my competitors?
4. What is my personal definition of success?
You can only pick one for each question, and you can’t use the same skill for more than one question. Go ahead and write those down along with accompanying notes, and sleep on it for a few days.
My next article will be Composing Your Vision Strategy Part 2.
“It is one of the great tragedies of civilization that ninety-eight out of every one hundred persons go all the way through life without coming within sight that even approximates definiteness of a major purpose.” ~Napoleon Hill
To be honest, are any of us certain that we’ve found our true calling in life? I love what I’m doing, but there are parts of my job that I find awfully tedious. Further, I believe we can have more than one purpose in life or that our purpose will most surely change as we age. For myself, I was a partner in my own company for many years and when we received a good offer, we decided to sell it and move on. That was around the time that my children were embarking on their own journeys in life and going off to college. I also had to overcome some health issues. All of these things combined — some good, some not so good — led me to a bit of a crisis of confidence. What was I going to do next? While I liked my job that I had done in my company and I appreciated what it afforded me, I didn’t feel like it was a true calling or my life’s purpose.
An older friend was talking to me about his large and prosperous company one day. He had become enormously wealthy starting and growing this company which in all honesty, sounded incredibly boring to me. At one point I stopped him and asked, “Yes, but was it your dream?”
He responded, “No, it was my opportunity.”
Fair enough. Would you do a job for your entire working life that you weren’t really passionate about, if you could make a very large amount of money doing it?
The renowned psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed and wrote about the two-factor theory of job satisfaction. He called the two factors that influence people in choosing jobs or sticking with them, motivators and hygiene. Hygiene factors are things such as comfort, benefits, location, colleagues and salary. These are mostly extrinsic factors — beyond one’s control — and that must be there for people to choose a job. But they will not make people happy about their job, they will just keep them from hating their job. The opposite are the intrinsic factors, or the motivators. They are things such as, “achievement, recognition for achievement, the work itself, responsibility, and growth or advancement,” or growth factors.
This is what we need to go after our life’s purpose, our passion. The risk is the hygiene job. You start a career because the salary is good, and then you get married, have kids, and you can’t leave, and all the while, you are not satisfied with your career, and yet you stay in it for obvious reasons.
How many of us have found ourselves in the hygiene careers?
Around the time of my crisis of confidence, a couple friends and I started our First Friday Mastermind group (which I initially wrote about in my S.W.O.T. Analysis article). I got the idea because I thought about all the business principles I applied to my business that helped it become successful to the point we were able to sell it, but I never did that kind of planning for my personal life. I’m talking about vision strategies, mission statements, S.W.O.T. analyses, goal setting, marketing plans, projections, board of directors, and so on.
I deserved that. You deserve that.
I was also re-reading the iconic, “Think and Grow Rich,” by Napoleon Hill. He’s the one who suggested the idea of a mastermind group, to take advantage of collective intelligence.
Five of us got together the first Friday of every month, to learn about business principles which sadly most people don’t know about or use, and also to drink (wine) and eat (potluck) and check-in with each other and pour out our hearts and cry and laugh and hold each other accountable. In written, almost beseeching snippets of exercises, told with heart-wrenching honesty and longing, every one of us wrote knowing, knowing we could do better, we could be better.
I remembered that my partner and I had gone through this period in our company where we were just struggling all the time and nothing we did seemed to work or improve our situation. Money was always an issue and I was tired. We hired a consultant who used a methodology called, “Chart Your Own Course,” by Caryn A. Spain and Ron Wishnoff. The idea was to choose the four things your company should focus on — your vision strategy — and do those things really well. Every management decision or action taken, should be to further something on your vision strategy. The value of a vision strategy in business cannot be overestimated in my opinion. Our business turned around and within a few years we were able to sell it for a huge multiple.
“Chart You Own Course,” suggested starting your exploration process by listing all the things your company does well. At the first meeting of our little group, we convened on a wet and chilly December evening, took off our shoes, and did our first tell-tale, potent exercise. It was a variation on that first step. I called ours, The Top 50, a list of fifty things that you do reasonably well. It didn’t actually need to be fifty things and could be more, but fifty is a good number.
Some felt that there was no way they could come up with fifty skills or talents, but I told them that they could. We looked at it like a brainstorming exercise and did it right there in the meeting and then read the results to each other. I personally, completely missed some of the things at which I excel. No fewer than two Masterminders put down, “loading the dishwasher.” One of us came up with over seventy five that first night.
The TOP 50 was a list we would use over and over as a springboard for other exercises, like in writing our vision statements and our mission statements. It was the start of a process for many of us to figure out what we wanted to do, to question our direction, our life’s purpose, our calling in life, our dreams. We then utilized business tools to put our dreams into action.
Here is the theory behind The Top 50 and why it’s important:
First of all, you’ll be surprised at how many things you do well. It’s an esteem booster. I revisit my list whenever I am feeling down about myself, frustrated, or impatient with how things are going.
Second, the reason we use this list as a springboard for other exercises is because it makes sense to start from a position of strength: we’re reinventing ourselves not the wheel.
Third, you want to do something you enjoy, and typically people enjoy the things they do well.
Fourth, I believe that writing things down makes them real. It is an acknowledgement in ink. Indelible.
Fifth, by thinking about your strengths and writing them down (and even being reminded by your friends in the room when you have momentary lapses about the things you do well and have never acknowledged), you may discover something helpful about yourself that surprises.
My last word about the importance of working from the TOP 50 LIST: Don’t let anyone else define you. There is a Latin expression: Temet nosce. Know thyself. The longer version of that is, “Know thyself and thou shall know all the mysteries of the Gods and of the universe.” This is your choice, not the Universe’s or God’s or your spouse, mother, children or monk’s choice.
Here’s what I learned about myself from my Top 50 list. I was really good at business skills, but I also possessed many creative talents like writing, painting, music, and graphic design. I knew that with my next company, I had to be doing something more creative. Even though I could make a lot of money in management and finance, I didn’t want to do that anymore. Working through all the exercises as a part of my mastermind group helped me to start my company, Bloomers Island.
I highly suggest that if you are reading this, do your own Top 50 and let me know if you discovered any surprises. Also, I’m curious how many of you think you are living your life’s purpose.
Next up is your vision strategy.
There seems to be a lot of hate out there these days. According to the F.B.I., 2018 was the third consecutive year of increases in hate crimes. What do we do about it? I’ve always thought that the antidote to hate is love, but sometimes loving is hard. Is there another way?
I’ve been thinking about this problem. I did some research on hate. In psychology circles, hate is not considered a primary emotion, it’s a secondary emotion, or a reaction to a primary emotion. The primary emotion that typically drives hate is fear. You’re afraid of something and so you hate it.
We’ve been told that to combat hate in this world and in our lives, we should counter it with love. That’s nice, but sometimes it’s hard to feel love or respond with love when someone is writing hateful comments about you and your beliefs, or calling you names. At those moments, it is hard to conjure up love, to think about love, to be generous with our feelings. At best it is difficult. At worst, impossible. And what does loving even mean?
Talk to any kid who has been bullied at school. They are afraid. Tell him or her that they should be loving toward their nemesis. As someone who has been bullied, I can tell you that it would have been impossible to love this person.
One of my earliest memories was going to the enormous public swimming pool in our town. To my four year-old eyes, this pool was like one of the great lakes. At the time, my six year-old brother and I were complete landlubbers. I never even saw the ocean until I was a sophomore in college. I was terrified of the water and my brother had no swimming skills beyond doggy paddling. In what was a common practice at the time, and what I now refer to as, “The Great Pool Incident,” my dad unceremoniously picked up my brother and in one swift motion threw him into the deep end of the pool. My brother sank like a stone. With a sideways glance to me, my father said that it would force him to learn to swim.
I was mortified. After a long few moments with my brother on the bottom of the pool, my dad finally jumped in and peeled him off. My brother, in a panicked mode, clawed at my dad’s chest. When the whole ordeal was over, they both climbed out of the pool, my dad bleeding profusely from surprisingly deep gashes down his front, my brother heaving and coughing, his eyes open wide like a cornered wild animal.
I think my dad was embarrassed that his son couldn’t just tough it out. My brother was fearful and then angry and finally hateful that my father had betrayed him like that. Through all this, I clung to my mother’s leg, just in case my father got the thought in his head that I should be subjected to the same failed experiment.
I give my father a teensy bit of a pass on this. He was 25 at the time, not particularly adept at parenting, heck, no one was adept at parenting back then. Grownups were still spanking their kids and subjecting them to all kinds of old-fashioned, humiliating parenting techniques that make us cringe now.
My brother was afraid of the water. My father’s method to help him overcome that fear was ridiculous. Equally as absurd would have been to tell my brother to think loving thoughts about the water. What would have been better? Simply, to practice.
Here’s the thing, it is a lot easier to act on something than to think something (or to not think something), especially when emotions are in play. I wrote about this in my blog post: IT’S THE MESSENGER NOT THE MEDIUM. Action is easier than thought and practice is an action.
Practice to overcome your fear, and as a recommendation if you know someone else who is filled with fear and perhaps its resultant hate. If anyone does something over and over, it loses its power over them. They are not afraid anymore.
In the “Great Pool Incident,” if my brother had been given some swimming lessons and the luxury of time to practice them, none of this would have been necessary. He could have jumped into the deep end himself, and my dad could have joined him, playing with the beach ball, diving for pennies, and perhaps racing from side to side. Instead, my brother didn’t learn to properly swim for many years. And me? Not until my senior year in college when I needed one last Phys Ed credit to graduate and Swimming 101 was the only thing left that fit into my schedule. (I really liked it and even took Swimming 102 — the benefit of a four-year college degree.)
When your children are afraid of something, have them get out there and practice. Back to the bully, a good idea would be to role play with your child against their bully. That is practice. Or practice self-defense. Or have him or her practice asking for help.
We can apply this in our own grownup lives. We can communicate it to others. We can apply it in business. You’re afraid to call a potentially important customer? Pick up the phone and practice calling smaller customers. Write a script and role play with a friend or colleague. Practice. (I think role playing in business is highly underrated.)
If someone is afraid of immigrants, invite them to dinner with an immigrant or a refugee family. Invite them to volunteer at a local refugee center. Who knows? Maybe it will make a difference. In the meantime, send them a link to this article.
If you are afraid of something, practice what you are afraid of. Start really small. Practice sports. Read more. Learn more. Educate yourself. Practice job skills, foreign languages, writing. Practice going out and meeting other people. Practice your social skills. Don’t be afraid of other people. Improve yourself.
By defeating fear, you go a long way to overcoming name calling, bullying, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, otherism, and hatred.
Oh, and by the way, you can practice love too. Maybe start small with a smile and a complement.
What fear have you learned to overcome by practicing?